top of page

Mixed Martial Arts & The 400 IM

Written By: Casey Charles

I am a massive fan of mixed martial arts (MMA). To me, the appeal lies in the fact that there are numerous paths to victory and defeat, and the best practitioners in this sport are well versed in not only a number of different disciplines, but also the seamless transitions between those disciplines while locked in a cage with another human being for up to 25 minutes.

In swimming, we have the 400 IM, and while the consequences are not the same as MMA, it is the best combination of multi-disciplinary fundamental expertise combined with transitions, strategy, and stamina.

I absolutely love the 400 IM (much like MMA) because there’s no hiding - flaws in technique and training are center stage and exploited in real-time. Swimmers cannot fake a 400 IM, and there are no lucky victories or flukes.

With this in mind, I believe training strategies are mightily important to excelling during a race like the 400 IM. When writing any practice, especially when it is specific to an event, I like to think about how I want swimmers to execute in that race. Here are my thoughts on the 400 IM:

400 IM Beliefs (Note: I do not believe these to be novel ideas - many coaches subscribe to some methodology that is either the same or very close to this, but I think it is important to state because this methodology will dictate how we attack this event in training)

  1. Butterfly - Establish rhythm, make sure to breath, focus on distance per stroke on the first 75 then build on the last 25.

  1. Backstroke - (1st 25) Establish the feel of the stroke and hit a specific cycle count (2nd 25) Build hand speed through cycle count and build legs into the flip (3rd & 4th 25) Make sure head position is set and work towards full speed with the hands and feet, be mindful of accelerating into each wall

  1. Breaststroke - Same as backstroke, but I remind stronger swimmers who have weaker breaststroke to rip their underwater pull-outs.

  1. Freestyle - (1st 25) Force the first 5 strokes - take mental control immediately by establishing your ability to fight (2nd & 3rd 25s) Catch water, take low breaths, do not slow down into your walls (4th 25) Minimize breathing - keep your head as still as possible - finish your last 5 strokes.

With these beliefs in mind, here are a few broken 400 IM ideas:

4 x 100 @ Goal Pace

#1 - 75 FR/25 FL Build @ 1:30

#2 - 50 FR Build/50 BK Build/Blast @ 1:20

#3 - 25 FR/75 BR Build/Blast @ 1:10

#4 - 100 FR Race finish @ 1:00

This is no doubt a simple set, but it has been effective with my athletes because the rounds are short, there is immediate feedback with regards to pacing, and the intervals (which obviously will vary) create the feel especially on the back 200. The 100 freestyle at the end is on limited rest for most athletes, so it comes close to the feel at the end of the 400 IM.

1 x 75 FL [Strong] Stay Even with stroke, underwater kick, and breathing

1x 50 FL/BK by 25 [Build/Strong] build by adding 1-2 cycles/establish technique

1x 50 BK [Build/Blast] Build hand speed and legs to top speed/Sustain top speed

1x 50 BK/BR by 25 [Blast/Strong] Sustain top speed/establish technique and cycle count

1 x 50 BR [Build/Blast] Build by adding 1-2 cycles to top speed/sustain top speed

1 x 50 BR/FR by 25 [Blast/Blast] Sustain top speed/Blast first FIVE and sustain

1 x 75 FR [Blast] Minimize breathing by 25 and sustain top speed, finish last 5 strokes

Intervals can be manipulated to suit your desired result. Again, I always keep the end goal in mind - I may change intervals throughout the set to get to race pace. But, I will also make sure to verbally follow-up at the end of the set to let the swimmers know that they will need to pull off those desired splits with zero rest.

1 x 25 FL From a Dive – Strong – Establish technique and tempo

1 x 50 FL Build off of established tempo to fast by manipulating stroke cycle

1 x 25 FL Maintain Fast

2 x 50 BK Descend 1-2 - be mindful of quickening pace through stroke cycles

2 x 50 BR Descend 1-2 - be mindful of stroke cycles by 25 and length of pull outs

1 x 25 FR Best Effort – Strong kick – Blast first 5 strokes – control breathing

1 x 50 FR Maintain blast effort

1 x 25 FR As few breaths as possible - finish the last 5 strokes into the wall

In every 400 IM set I write, I emphasize closing on freestyle. Therefore, I use the interval in such a way that it requires toughness as the swimmer finishes the broken swim. On this set, I may start with 25s @ :30, 50s @ 50 on FL and BK. Then drop the interval down to :45 on the BR, and finish FR - 25s @ :20; 50 @ :30.

Regardless of how you decide to break the 400 IM and the intervals, just make sure to keep the overall goal for that individual swimmer in mind as best you can in the confines of lane space and time.

Questions/Comments: Casey Charles -

Entering his 18th season with the ECA, Coach Casey has fostered the meteoric rise in not only the number of swimmers on the team, but the success of those swimmers at championship meets. In 2003, as the head assistant coach, ECA (then GSC )numbered 85 swimmers. During the 2011-2012 season, ECA numbered close to 300 swimmers from 4 to 78 years old spanning three counties. During that 18 year period, ECA swimmers have won over 100 state titles, 15 sectional titles, 1 national title, and 1 Olympic gold medal. In addition, Coach Casey has directly worked with 3 swimmers who have achieved World Rankings and 8 swimmers who have achieved over 20 US Olympic Trials Cuts. Coach Casey stresses personal accountability, time management, and an arduous work ethic with all of his swimmers. Structure, progression, and adaptation are also staples in his swimming philosophy, which dictates the overall goals and mindset of ECA.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page